Being a compassionate person, you usually respond to the pleas of the needy around you with a generous heart. But are you and others somehow missing the obvious? Chances are, there is a neglected household right in front of your nose. Her family is needy, yet no one notices.

You and your able-bodied buddies feel moved to give up your Saturday mornings to build a Habitat for Humanity house. A sense of goodwill grows within your heart with each strike of the hammer.

A leaking roof goes unattended and peeling walls remain unpainted for fear they will set her back for months.

In late summer, you buy and fill a book bag with school supplies for a student identified as needy. You smile, recalling the joy a fresh box of crayons gave you as a child.

She worries about providing basic educational materials to promote learning among her charges, and she feels hopelessly left behind in the technology world.

In the fall, you eagerly sign up for the CROP Hunger Walk, wanting to help the hungry both locally and on the far side of the world. You believe someday hunger can be eradicated.

When no one is looking, she counts the slices of bread. Will there be enough to make the sandwiches on which so many depend?

You rush to the Angel Tree, pulling off a tag or two to provide a brighter Christmas for a needy child or adult. You want the spirit of Christmas to reach everyone.

Her furniture has grown shabby; the carpet has frayed; her robe has worn shamefully thin.

In the dead of winter, you enthusiastically bring dinner or offer to stay overnight to help the homeless experience a warm night through the Room in the Inn ministry. You shudder to think of anyone living on the streets, being subjected to the elements.

In the bitter cold months, and the scorching summer ones, she fears that she’ll be unable to pay the power bill.

If there is a drive for bottled water for those suffering from a natural disaster, you not only donate, you ask coworkers and neighbors to help. You recognize that helping those afflicted by nature’s whims is the right thing to do.

She can never find the resources to build a reserve of funds for unexpected expenses.

You diligently write your monthly check to support the disadvantaged native child you sponsor in Peru. After all, his daily needs depend on your charity.

She is always there, right in front of you, her purse humiliatingly sparse.

You try to impart in your children a sense of benevolence by giving to the many worthy causes clamoring for your dollars. You’re a good role model, though you cannot foresee how far your influence will carry as your children grow into adulthood.

The members of her family vary, possessing different strengths and weaknesses. Some are bighearted and try to contribute to the household. Others don’t. Sometimes they squabble among themselves as to who has the greatest claim to whatever money there is.

You have probably guessed by now that she is your church.

She is not just a sacred place of worship but also a physical plant that requires upkeep and may even need expansion. She is a business to be run by essential staff who have families of their own to provide for. She is an educator who tries to create a relevant learning experience for the adults and children in her care. She is a volunteer coordinator who helps make all those outreach opportunities mentioned earlier readily available. In addition, she is a wonderful friend—one whom it is easy to take for granted.

When its basic needs are overlooked, your church may hover a mere step ahead of financial collapse. Still its door remains wide open to serve an unceasing stream of the needy—both church members and others in the community. It is simply in its nature to be a caregiver.

Follow your instincts. You know what to do.

Debra Madaris Efird
Debra Madaris Efird, a lifelong Lutheran, is a member of Advent Lutheran, Charlotte, N.C. She is the author of Groups in Practice: A School Counselor's Collection (Routledge, 2012) and her work has also appeared in Gather magazine.

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